We had the chance to sit down with one of our very successful clients, Beth Upton, CEO, and founder of Money Tree Fundraising – a company that works with charities to set up and grow fundraising from trusts, companies and wealthy individuals. In 2016, they were named Best Strategic/ Fundraising Consultancy by the Institute of Fundraising. This came with a lot of hard work, risk, and collaboration of which you’ll find out below.
Beth works with a Virtual Assistant to help with administrative duties on a day-to-day basis. We also assist her with Money Tree Fundraising’s online social presence across platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
What do you think made you become an entrepreneur?
I didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur, it crept up on me. What keeps me being an entrepreneur is my interest in the horizon and what it is that’s coming over it towards us. I am also thinking about how to develop our work to make sure it is still relevant to our clients and pushes our practice to be as brilliant as possible.
What do you think are your core strengths?
I am lucky in that I am good at a wide range of things – I am a skilled writer and yet a whizz with a spreadsheet; I can see the bigger picture whilst having great attention to detail. Having been in my clients’ shoes for many years prior to setting up the business is definitely a strength in business terms.
How do you overcome any of your weaknesses?
I have built a brilliant team around me whose skills complement my own. I can rely on them to be brilliant in their core areas and we work collaboratively wherever possible.
Other than deciding to work for yourself, what was the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success?
Saying yes (to someone I knew only a bit via work) to attend a group weekend with them away in Scotland. She arranged for 13 of us to take over an entire hotel on the banks of Loch Ness for the weekend, just for fun. None of us knew everyone there and we had a no-shop-talk rule.
A couple of the people I met there have become firm friends and one, in particular, has become a real advocate for me with others in our sector – she has promoted me to speak at events, sit on panels and otherwise made sure my name is known.
What habits helped make you successful?
“Being a fundraiser does not qualify me to be a successful business owner” is something I said a lot – to myself and others – in the early days as I moved from freelancing to building the business.
To combat this, I spent a lot of time learning about business and all of the myriad things that go into running one (marketing, sales, financial management, business models) via courses, books, networking or simply following knowledgeable people on social media.
I will never be an expert in any of these things but I gave myself enough knowledge to be able to get by in the early years and make informed decisions about suppliers and staff now that we are more established.
I am still in the habit of learning more; we operate in such a fast-moving world that my knowledge will quickly become obsolete if I don’t!
What are some of the biggest lessons that have impacted the way that you work?
I had the best manager at my first fundraising job and still carry the lessons I learned from working for him with me today. Edward is a real encourager and developer of others’ strengths; in him, I saw a lack of ego that enabled the whole team to shine around him and through that we excelled. I try to emulate his methods with my team and encourage it with my clients.
What are the non-work habits that help you with your work-life balance?
I have a beautiful chocolate Labrador, who forces me out of the house for at least an hour’s walk every single day, no excuses. I also have a busy family who requires undivided attention at key times.
I recall the days when I was single and unencumbered by people or pets – I used to work 12+ hour days and had zero work-life balance at all. I didn’t really achieve that much more than I do nowadays, sadly!
How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
I lost my job in 2010, at the height of the recession and at a time when there were very few jobs on offer, so I started to freelance to see me through those times. Getting freelance fundraising work was really easy as there was a demand for it that I hadn’t realised existed until that point. It was “doing” work rather than strategy work, however.
I also discovered a volume of freelance fundraisers, most of whom wanted to work part-time and preferred the “doing” to finding the work. I quickly discovered a passion for matching the right fundraiser to the right charity and never did start to look for a permanent job.
What is unique about your business?
We focus on high-value giving: trust applications, corporate partnerships and large gifts from wealthy individuals. Every single one of the 20+ team has demonstrable, hands-on experience in one or more of these areas. We are experts.
What are your responsibilities as the business owner?
Ultimately it is all my responsibility – delivering excellent work, satisfied clients, satisfied team and strong finances.
Day to day I focus on finances, contracts, and quality, with some client work and a small portion of sales.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Be sure this is something you really want as opposed to something you’re doing to fill a gap and don’t forget your motives. Being self-employed is hard, the income is erratic, the hours can be long and having a permanent job is far, far more straightforward!